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Wednesday, 4 December 2019
Page: 6893


Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Leader of the House) (09:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The government remains absolutely committed to ensuring the integrity of all registered organisations—employer groups and unions alike—for the benefit of workers, for the benefit of our national economy and for the broader public interest. This bill is not going away, because the problem is not going away, and maintaining the law on construction sites around Australia is not a principle to be applied in some circumstances and disregarded in others.

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order?

Mr Burke: Mr Speaker, it's not surprising, given the controversy surrounding this bill, that members present would like copies, as is required under the standing orders. The members are here. There's been a lot of publicity about this moment. It was a reasonable expectation that the government would have enough copies of the bill for members to be able to have a look at it during the second reading speech, and they haven't done so.

The SPEAKER: We've obviously had this sort of debate before, and it's well-established practice that 'sufficient' doesn't mean 151 copies at the table. But is the Manager of Opposition Business saying there are no copies?

Mr Burke: There are no further copies available at the table.

The SPEAKER: So you're confirming that copies have been provided at the table.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: I just need to know what the request of me is. I'm getting requests by interjection. Are you saying that both the bill and the explanatory memorandum have not been provided in the way they normally are?

Mr Fitzgibbon: No.

The SPEAKER: I didn't ask the member for Hunter. I really didn't.

Mr Burke: The normal provision is that there will be enough copies for the number of members who seek copies. I think it's a fair bet that government members aren't demanding right now that copies be available for them. There are members of the opposition who want copies in accordance with standing orders, and currently they are not available for them.

The SPEAKER: I just say to the Manager of Opposition Business that I understand the point he's making. But actually the normal practice is that there are a number of copies that are provided, and if more are provided they're provided during the course of the debate. That's what's occurred on many occasions. I just ask the clerks and the attendants if they can ensure that more copies continue to be made available.

Mr Burke: On the specific words of standing order 142:

If copies of the bill are available to Members, the Member presenting the bill may move immediately after the first reading, or at a later hour—

to move that the bill be read a second time. That has happened to a point that copies are no longer available to members.

The SPEAKER: Perhaps the Manager of Opposition Business does desire that I spend a long period of time debating this. Perhaps that's so. I can pull out the relevant section of practice if he wants me to do that. I can refer to all of the occasions where I've seen this raised in the 18 years I've been in this place, including when the Manager of Opposition Business was a minister, if he'd really like me to furnish all those rulings. It has never been the case that there needs to be 151 copies here. There are the standing orders and thePractice.

Mr Burke: Just a final time.

The SPEAKER: No. A final time sounds good—inviting!—but I'll just finish what I'm saying if that's okay. If he's really saying that that is how he wants that interpreted, and he wants to ignore how it's been interpreted by governments of both political persuasions over a long period—

Mr Simmonds interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Ryan! As you can see, more copies are coming in. If he's really saying he wants that standing order to be interpreted so that if there is one copy fewer than the number of members seeking it, at any point on the clock, and therefore he wants me to interpret it that way, for me to give consideration to that would be for me to give consideration to enforcing every standing order, particularly those that would apply to the opposition, in the strictest possible sense. What I'm suggesting now is: you've made your point; there are more coming in, and more will continue to come in. I don't suspect this is the last procedural issue we'll confront today. I'm going to call the minister, and I'm going to hear him without interjection.

Mr PORTER: I'm sure the men and women being spat at and abused on construction sites appreciate that sort of stunt. That's what's happening. As we were noting, obeying the law on construction sites around Australia is not a principle to be observed in some circumstances and disregarded in others. It's incumbent upon all organisations, whether they be employee or employer organisations—

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Can the minister just pause for a second. I'm going to try to give some helpful advice to those sitting behind the Manager of Opposition Business. When legislation is quite contested, it's understandable that members may have passion. But I remind them: standing order 94(a) does not just apply to question time; it applies to all proceedings. Disorderly conduct does not differ according to what the item of business is. Have no doubt, I will exercise the power under 94(a) as I do in question time if the level of interjections continues.

Mr PORTER: It's incumbent upon all organisations, whether they be employer or employee organisations, unions, banks, other corporations—all of them—and their directors, their executives and their officers to comply with the law or to face appropriate consequences determined by this parliament.

This bill concerns registered organisations which, despite the claims of some, are not above the law. Multiple royal commissions and innumerable judgements of the courts have exposed the misconduct, the lawlessness and even the corruption at the heart of some parts of registered organisations, including, and specifically, a militant minority in the CFMMEU.

Ms Kearney interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Cooper is now warned.

Mr PORTER: To quote one of the very many similar passages from many judges of the Federal Court with respect to the CFMMEU:

… the conduct of its officers and employees has consistently shown a total contempt … for the constraints imposed by the law …

And it has shown a:

… cavalier disregard for the prior penalties imposed by this Court.

And this conduct is continuing. There have been over 30 contraventions of the law and close to $400,000 in court ordered penalties in the last few months alone. The Australian Building and Construction Commission filed a case just recently which alleges that CFMMEU officers threatened and intimidated workers of a crane company in New South Wales, including, as members opposite will no doubt be interested to hear, by spitting at them, calling them 'dogs' and 'scabs', photographing them and uploading the images on social media, where those hardworking men and women were then subjected to further abuse and intimidation.

Ms Kearney interjecting

The SPEAKER: Member for Cooper, this is your final warning. I will eject you if you continue to interject at all for the rest of the day. You were warned yesterday and the day before.

Mr PORTER: I might just repeat that. The Australian Building and Construction Commission filed a case just recently. It alleges that CFMMEU officers threatened and intimidated workers of a crane company in New South Wales, hardworking men and women, including by spitting at them, calling them 'dogs' and 'scabs' and photographing them and uploading the images on social media, where those hardworking Australian men and women were further subjected to abuse and intimidation online.

Of course, it's not just repeated contraventions of workplace law. Just as we have seen New South Wales CFMMEU officers convicted this week of drug offences, a senior CFMMEU officer in Queensland is in court right now facing criminal charges for intimidating a state work health and safety inspector.

We have also seen examples of utterly horrendous conduct against women by officers of the CFMMEU, including intimidating female police officers, spitting at female building inspectors and making abhorrent violent threats about sexual violence to workplace inspectors. Is it any wonder that data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the number of women working in construction has fallen from 13 per cent 30 years ago to 11.8 per cent today?

So what should any reasonable government do in the face of organisations that engage in conduct such as this, that place themselves above the law on construction sites throughout Australia, that happily spend their members' money on paying court imposed penalties while continuing to do what they like by way of breaking the law? Should a government make an exception? Should they admit defeat? Should they say employers and other unions must obey the law? It surely must be the latter. Organisations such as the CFMMEU are not above the law.

If existing sanctions are not working effectively to deter lawbreaking then a government needs to develop stronger sanctions. If penalties are not working, the courts need other options. It's clearly the case when it comes to registered organisations.

Courts must be able to rationally and reasonably disqualify officers who keep breaking the law—removing them from office or alternatively suspending or taking from the organisation itself the enormous rights and privileges occasioned by virtue of registration. In essence, that is simply what this bill does.

Portraying this approach as an attack on unions, much less their hardworking members, is unreasonable—unless of course one views that these organisations are above the law and therefore somehow beyond reproach. But any such view, at best, is horribly misguided and, at worst, shows a genuine threat to the supremacy of the rule of law on construction sites throughout Australia.

The bill introduced into parliament today incorporates the sensible and constructive amendments, safeguards and further protections proposed to a previous iteration of the bill by both Centre Alliance and other crossbenchers. It also incorporates a provision requiring that the operation of the bill be reviewed in the near future, as suggested by the Greens and by the Jacqui Lambie Network.

The grounds for disqualification and cancellation of registration in the bill are set at an appropriately high level. They'll only be met where courts have imposed penalties for serious or repeated contraventions of the law. Of course even where any such ground is met by way of application, only the independent regulator will be able to decide whether disqualification or cancellation should be sought and, even then, only the independent Federal Court is able to make these orders and, even then, the court can only do so where it would not be unjust, taking into consideration the gravity of the underlying conduct and all other relevant considerations.

To suggest that safeguards such as these and the multitude of other safeguards in the bill will lead to a person being disqualified or an organisation being deregistered for submitting paperwork a few days late, as those opposite have repeatedly and disingenuously claimed, is so far down the path to being legally fanciful. It evokes questions about precisely what sort of serious and unlawful conduct the allegations are designed to excuse.

Under the bill, only amalgamations of organisations with a serious and long track record of breaking the law will be required to satisfy a public interest test, administered by the Fair Work Commission. Members of organisations will continue to be able to vote on whether their organisation should merge with another organisation. But where there is ongoing and serious contempt for laws on construction sites, the question needs to be asked: is it in the public interest for such an organisation to spread its culture of lawbreaking to other organisations?

It is vital to note that ultimately nothing in the bill prevents a registered organisation from exercising its rights under the law to represent workers, including investigating payment issues or acting on work health and safety concerns. The vast majority of unions and their employer groups manage to perform these functions perfectly well. They work hard for their members, but they do so inside the confines of the laws recognised by the Australian people. They recognise that they cannot in good conscience insist that employers pay workers their legal entitlements, bargain in good faith and comply with other legislative provisions if rogue elements of militant unions themselves perpetually ignore and disobey the law.

The bill simply deals with those registered organisations who have shown an absolutely unfettered disregard for the law, who break the law—civil, workplace and criminal—repetitiously and mistreat hardworking Australian men and women in workplaces, particularly in construction. Organisations that contribute positively to the industrial relations framework, work in their members' interests and obey the law—and thankfully that is of course the vast majority of the organisations in question—will not be impacted by the bill at all.

Respect for the law on construction sites goes not only to the absolute integrity and existence of registered organisations but also to the efficiency, the efficacy and the integrity of the entire industrial relations system itself. For all those reasons, I commend the bill to the House.